(Photos from this trip are located here)
Well, we have confirmed that the pre-pandemic crowds are back in full force! Fortunately, in a few of our destinations (namely, the ski-towns of the Dolomites), we were “off-season” so there weren’t many tourists and the temps were nice and cool. We took the time to acknowledge and appreciate that fact as we left the mountains and headed back to the throngs in Venice and beyond. That said though, the crowds didn’t diminish the beauty of the locations, fantastic food and drinks, and amazing adventure throughout the trip!
Overview of the route: This was meant to be an active sightseeing adventure and it definitely lived up to the objective! Our route took us on a loop from German-speaking Switzerland into Northern Italy, over to France to just dip our toes into the Savoie/Haute-Savoie departments and then back to French-speaking Switzerland.
Zurich/Lucerne: Since we landed in Zurich, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do a little sightseeing in this famous town. So, we made our way into the city center and followed a self-guided walk to see a bit of the old town. It was a quick stop but great for stretching our legs after our long red-eye flight and gave us a bit of energy to tackle the rest of the day as we fought the jet lag. We loved the cobblestone alleys and beautiful squares! Before completely heading out of town, though, we had to hit the Lindt factory for a tour and a caffeine boost in the form of chocolate sampling! From there, we took a short drive to Lucerne, our home for 2 nights. The big item on our agenda in Lucerne was, of course, visiting Mt Pilatus. The Golden Round Trip is such a great way to do this visit! You can do it in either direction but we decided to save the boat portion for the end. So, it was a bus ride to a gondola, to a cog wheel train to a boat for the return. Such a fantastic start to our adventure – beautiful mountains, lake views, and fresh air!
Dolomites (Italian Alps): Our little excursion to Mt Pilatus was a good warm-up for what we were about to tackle in the Dolomites. Since this was my first time really exploring this area, I made sure to do loads of research and prep work ahead of time so I knew exactly which trails we wanted to do and exactly how to find the trailheads, which gondolas were running, etc. It was well-worth the time and effort because there are so many options and we did end up on trails that were the perfect levels for our abilities and allotted time. Our time in the Dolomites spanned 4 nights (based in 3 different towns) and 3 days of hiking. The trails I selected included Lago di Braies, Croda Fiscalina, Lago Dobbiaco, the Seceda Ridge, and the Tre Cime hike. Most were considered relatively “easy” but the Tre Cime hike definitely required a bit more effort. Regardless, the scenery is breathtaking no matter which trail you do! You can check out some of the hiking we did here.
Venice (and the Islands): We took the time to acknowledge and appreciate the fact that our excursion in the Dolomites was relatively crowd-free (in fact we were kind of missing the busy night life a few times when we were searching for bars in the evening, only to find none open and no one around), because once we left the Dolomites, we knew we would be surrounded by many more tourists. And so, it was… we spent the next 2 nights in Venice where we explored this fascinating pedestrian city on foot, of course, and by boat occasionally. Our visit also included a tour of the islands of Murano (known for glass-making) and Burano (known for lace-making). One pleasant surprise during the visit was that we were there during the one night of “Art Night in Venice” – an evening in which many of the cultural buildings around the city are open to the public for viewing – what a treat!!
Italian Lake Region (Como/Varese – with a stop in Verona on the way): Leaving Venice, with our destination being the Lake Region, we decided to make a quick stop in Verona since it was on the way and would break up the trip a bit and, of course… Juliet’s balcony! Ok, yes, it’s a bit corny but why not join the fun (and crowds) and make the pilgrimage to take a picture of that little courtyard and balcony? I mean, we were passing through anyway and it is a cute town AND there are actually ruins of an ancient arena that make the stop interesting as well. After that little tourist detour, next stop was Como. This was not our final destination of the day, but we parked ourselves for bit and took the time to take the funicular up to the village of Brunate for some beautiful views of the lake and region. We would have made the time for happy hour with George if we had bumped into him, but alas, no George sightings, so we continued on our way to Varese. Our plan for the night in Varese allowed us to reduce the next day’s drive by a bit but also allowed us to see yet another very cute town. I would have loved to have been able to spend more time in this little town and made a note of that for future reference.
Chamonix/Mont Blanc (with a stop in Aosta on the way): As the whirlwind adventure continued, we made a short stop in Aosta on our way to Chamonix. This is the last town on the Italian side of the border – so, one last Italian espresso and a gelato had to be in the plans. After passing through the Mont Blanc Tunnel (a 52-euro toll, by the way!) we ended the drive in Chamonix with still plenty of time to explore the Mer de Glace. This is your opportunity to walk inside a glacier and is definitely worth the visit and so sad and impressive to see. In order to access the entrance to the glacier (which moves over the years as the glacier moves), you have to take a little red cogwheel train up to a gondola which then takes you down toward France’s largest glacier. From there, you descend 550 stairs to reach the entrance to the cave. The sad thing is that when I first visited this glacier (a million years ago), there were NO stairs to reach the entrance! As you walk down the stairs, you pass plaques noting the year that the glacier was at that level. Each year that passes, more stairs are added in order to access the entrance, as the glacier slowly melts. As if the walk down to the entrance isn’t impressive enough, once you enter the glacier it’s like an entirely different world – you’re walking through tunnels of beautiful blue ice. Of course, the magical feeling quickly dissolves once you exit the glacier and realize that you then have to walk back UP those same 550 stairs. All kidding aside though, this is one of the top things to do in Chamonix and for very good reason.
Another top activity in Chamonix is ascending to the Aiguille du Midi – which is the observation platform for viewing Mont Blanc and the Chamonix valley. Once again, cable cars are involved (I mean, we’re in the Alps, so it makes sense!). To reach the platform, you take a cable car up to an altitude of 12,605 feet – at this point we were above the snow line even in the summer, and we watched adventure seekers prepare their equipment and clothing for a trek down the mountain – axes, ropes, spikes, etc, in hand. Fascinating to watch. We could feel that the air was thinner and I was a bit light-headed, but we were already up that high, so why not keep going?! As of 2015 you can now continue the ascent to a glass box suspended 3280 feet above the void. Known as “Step into the Void”, this is not for people with a fear of heights – what an adrenaline rush!
Annecy (little Venice): We survived the thrills of Chamonix and started making our way toward Geneva for the last night of our trip. On our way, we stopped for lunch and a stroll in Annecy, France. A beautiful town, known as the Venice of France, that sits next to one of the cleanest lakes you’ll ever see – Lake Annecy. I had been looking forward to my lunch of a cheese and spinach galette (savory crepe), as I used to visit Annecy for lunch occasionally when I lived in Geneva. We strolled around the lake shore and around the town, enjoying taking pictures on the little bridges over the canals which gave Annecy its “little Venice” nickname.
Geneva: Our adventure concluded in Geneva, where we were catching our return flight home the next day. Here, we only had time for a bit of drive-by sightseeing – jet d’eau, flower clock, United Nations (with its 3-legged chair monument), and of course all of those high-end watchmakers!
Amazing, energizing, and exhausting trip (but in a good way!)! If it sounds like something you would enjoy, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I would be happy to repeat the route, either as is or with adjustments to suit your preferences. Or, as always, if there’s a different route you’d like to try, anywhere in Italy, France and/or Switzerland (or beyond), I would be happy to come up with a custom itinerary! And make sure to check out some of the images from this trip in the website photo gallery!